Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Current Child Porn Laws Imprison the Wrong People

Original Article

05/20/2013

By Macie Melendez

Growing up, I was taught that prison was a place where people went when they did bad things. It was simple then: There were good people and there were bad people.

As I got older, the picture grew more complicated. I saw good people do bad things, and I saw bad people do good things. But recently, when one of the best people in my world did something that landed him in prison, my beliefs about the justice system and how it punishes American citizens were completely upended.

My friend was sentenced to five years in a federal prison for obtaining five pornographic images and one video that featured a minor. (This number is minuscule compared to the hundreds of thousands of images and videos that are collected by serious offenders.) He obtained these images through a peer-to-peer file sharing program. He was intentionally downloading porn, but he was not seeking out child porn. Once he knew the images and video file existed, he deleted them.

Unfortunately for him, there was a member of the FBI searching the Internet for child pornography offenders. That FBI agent was able to track his computer's IP address, find out who he was and where he lived. In that process, the FBI learned that he was a young man who held a full-time job, had earned a Master's degree and had never been convicted of a crime -- in fact, he had never been arrested for anything at all. In spite of those facts, the FBI felt it necessary to send about a dozen agents to his apartment, armed with guns and dressed like they were going into a war zone. They had a search warrant and used it to raid his apartment. When they didn't find anything, they left.

The FBI continued to monitor him while he went about his normal, crime-free life. After eight months of investigating, the FBI still found nothing more than that first unintentional download. Regardless, several FBI agents came back to his apartment, put him in handcuffs and took him to jail.

I now see that laws simply aren't black and white. Instead, they come with a lot of grey matter. Within that grey matter is emotion -- a powerful fuel that charges people to action. But emotion can be dangerous as it often clouds logic and critical thinking. For this reason, our laws dictate that courtrooms be presided over by emotionless judges; lawmakers, however, aren't given these same emotional restrictions.

Congress' repeated escalations of penalties for child pornography offenses are an example of emotion getting in the way of logic. What voter wouldn't support severe punishments for those supporting or distributing films with underage sex and nudity? Especially when they are explained as a means to catch the worst of the worst. But in reality, in practice, these laws have formed the basis of a modern-day witch-hunt that thrives on the vagaries of the Internet and too often captures individuals who make relatively simple errors online, rather than those who produce such material or directly abuse children.

In late February 2013, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) released a report to Congress that examined the cases of offenders that have been sentenced under current federal sentencing guidelines for child pornography offenses. This report was conducted for a number of reasons, including the fact that "an increasing number of courts believe that penalties are overly severe for at least some non-production offenders" and that "there has been a growing disconnect between the existing sentencing scheme and the continuing evolution in the technology used by offenders."


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1 comment :

Mark said...

Hey Macie Melendez: welcome to the real real real world. The FBI needed to find something to justify their mistake. Remember Salem Massachusetts????